UNC kicked off the basketball season with it's annual Late Night with Roy festivities on Friday night. For the event UNC welcome back former Tar Heel Bobby Frasor to serve as the emcee on the event.
The women's basketball team started things out with an introduction of the players and staff when a "Welcome Back" video for head coach Sylvia Hatchell which included remarks from AD Bubba Cunningham and men's coach Roy Williams. Hatchell, who missed all of last season while she battled cancer, joined the team on the court to a huge ovation from the crowd. Hatchell is now cancer free and will take the reigns of a talented and experienced squad that will start the season ranked in the top ten.
Following a women's team scrimmage the men's team was introduced starting with the freshmen who all three look very comfortable in the spotlight, especially Theo Pinson. Stilman White drew huge applause in his return to the Dean Dome floor(having chosen #45) as did Marcus Paige, a much thinner Kennedy Meeks and J.P. Tokoto. The team did a series of dance numbers and lip syncing. Meeks brought the house down lip syncing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" which also may have been the only song I recognized the entire night.
The main event for the evening was the scrimmage which pitted the White team of Theo Pinson, Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks, Jackson Simmons, Desmond Hubert and Stilman White against the Blue squad comprised of Brice Johnson, Nate Britt, Joel Berry, Joel James, Luke Davis, Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks.
The While team jumped out to an early 13 point lead in the 20 minute scrimmage fueled by Paige and Pinson. The freshman was very comfortable getting out on the break and collecting three assists. Two of those went to Hubert for dunks. The Blue team eventually got rolling led by Justin Jackson. Jackson came to UNC with the reputation of being those "right place, right time" kind of scorers. His first basket came on an aggressive drive into the lane and layup. He follow by hitting a variety of floaters and putbacks for an unofficial tally of 17 points. Britt got off to a cold start but later hit a three and scored on a Ty Lawson-like coast-to-coast drive off a made basket.
With 21 seconds left, the White Team trailed by one. Paige went isolation, dished to Stilman White who drove and hit Paige on the left wing for a good look at three. Paige's shot missed and Blue took the win. Isaiah Hicks said afterwards he was certain Paige was going to make the shot which is apparently how several pickup games tend to conclude.
-The freshman looked good. Pinson had a nice start with the three assists but was quiet later. Berry hit a three and scored on a drive to the basket. He played most of the game alongside Britt in the backcourt. Jackson ended up being the real star among the rookies taking advantage of rebounds and hitting the open looks he was given. Granted it was just a scrimmage and he will undoubtedly see his ups and downs this season, but something about the way he plays screams "special."
-Britt showed off his new shooting form having switched to his right hand. He missed some shots early but eventually hit a three. He also showed off his speed and should work well playing alongside Marcus Paige if Roy Williams opts for that lineup.
-Kennedy Meeks weight loss was apparent in the way he looked but also how well he moved on the court. He was able to get up and down the court more easily and scored on one putback in traffic with two defenders around him. Unofficially Meeks had 8 points.
-Isaiah Hicks had four points. One came on a post up move where he backed Jackson Simmons down then hit a turnaround jumper. The other was a mid-range look from the baseline.
-J.P. Tokoto scored eight points but did not shoot the ball well. He did hit a three but also airballed a free throw.
-Brice Johnson was relatively quiet with just six points and also missed a putback in the final minute that would have put the Blue Team up three.
The usual caveats apply here. It was a scrimmage played with music blaring and little defense being played. The biggest takeaways have more to do with the energy level of the freshman and how they have "meshed" with the rest of the team. The trio might be able to add an intensity and edge the team needs. The parts are definitely there but bringing it all together will probably take some time. Williams will have a great deal of flexibility with the lineup given the available personnel and depth. And depending on how well Justin Jackson plays early in the season I am setting the over/under for the "why isn't Jackson starting" questions at ten games.